Generally you won’t find here much praise for or reference to the Drudge Report, but credit where due: It had an accurate and concise headline covering the Tulsa rally for the Donald Trump presidential campaign:
“MAGA less mega.”
Anyone watching it on C-SPAN, as we did, couldn’t help but notice the empty spaces at and around the Bank of Oklahoma Center. That was stunning.
It was stunning because the Trump campaign’s earlier predictions of a massive turnout seemed entirely plausible.
I’ve seen large turnouts for political events. In Portland, back in 2004, I remember close to 50,000 people there for John Kerry; larger turnouts have been reported by various candidates over the years. In the 2016 campaign, Trump periodically drew large numbers to his events.
And the circumstances for a large turnout for this one seemed just about right. Oklahoma almost certainly will be one of Trump’s best states this November, as it was in 2016; its population is not much smaller than Oregon’s, and most of it is a short drive from Tulsa, where the metro area has about a million people. Tulsa is not a far distance from Dallas-Forth Worth, Kansas City and Wichita, and people who showed up at the Saturday event reported traveling from places as distant at Denver, and maybe further. This was the first Trump rally in months, which should have led to some pent-up demand among the Trump faithful (as well as, presumably, pent-up frustration from Trump as well). Conditions for a really large turnout looked ideal.
And the campaign reported receiving about a million requests for tickets. Under the circumstances, that too sounded plausible. Trump spoke of an anticipated crowd of 40,000 just in the outside overflow area, outdoors of the 19,000-capacity BOK Center. With that in mind, outdoor speeches from Trump and Vice President Mike Pence were planned.
Even recognizing that many of those people wouldn’t show up, campaign staffers were happily analyzing all that fresh new supporter data.
On top of that, the free media effectively advertising the event was viral, even international. The Tulsa rally was the number one news story in the country for a week before the event. Few campaign events in recent years aside from the national conventions have been more thoroughly promoted. No serious Trump backer in the country could have been unaware of it.
On the day of …
Hardly anyone (reportedly a few dozen people at most) was in overflow, so the outside speeches were abandoned and the stage quickly dismantled. The eventual turnout inside the center was estimated by fire department officials at 6,200 (at least they would have been happy that fire safety standards were easily met) – a third of capacity.
Some massive portion of the online ticket requesters, it turned out, came from “Hundreds of teenage TikTok users and K-pop fans” who organized and flooded the Trump campaign with fake requests.
None of that, of course, would have stopped any Trump supporters who wanted to come. The campaign’s first response notwithstanding, neither did the anti-Trump protesters, who were also fewer in number than expected and did not block entrances; besides which, security in the area was more than ample. Any MAGA enthusiast who wanted in could have gotten in … would have been more than cheerfully welcomed in. (A couple of hours before the event started, the campaign sent out messages telling supporters that space was available for them if they wanted in.)
So the real question is why only 6,200 people showed up?
That group was supportive, certainly, though the video of the event before Trump’s performance (it wasn’t exactly a speech) showed a mostly-subdued group. But the small numbers, which could have fit comfortably into many high school gyms, were the real striking event.
From the CNN review of the event: “By the time he strode out to the strains of Lee Greenwood on Saturday evening into a partially-full Bank of Oklahoma Center, the event had devolved from a triumphant return to the campaign trail after a 110-day pandemic-forced absence into something else altogether. The launch of a new assault on former Vice President Joe Biden fizzled, replaced by recycled grievances and race-baiting. The sparse crowd was a reminder that many Americans, even Trump’s supporters, remain cautious of a pandemic that continues to rage in places like Oklahoma, where cases are spiking, even if Trump is ready to move on. Aides were anxiously awaiting his response to a less-than-stellar turnout, aware he has threatened to fire officials in the past when his rallies ended in disappointment.”
The Tulsa rally was supposed to provide a visual demonstration of massive crowd support for Trump. Instead it seemed to show the opposite, and maybe there’s some actual reflection of the political environment in that.
And maybe the health environment too. While many of the people who did show up said they weren’t worried about Covid-19 spread, maybe many others were, and decided to pass for that reason.
Now the question could be: Was the turnout small enough to avoid a mass spread of the illness? Reports of at least six campaign workers who tested positive shortly before the rally wouldn’t have been cause for optimism on that front.
Check back on that in another week or so …